It’s impossible to try and talk for Iraqi and women refugees, even though I am proud to be an Iraqi woman — but what I do know is that people with similar backgrounds need to gather. Women need to gather to get a break from their husbands and children, to have an adult conversation about their needs and hopes, to take an English class, to take a breath and enjoy their safety and find some support. Iraqis are much different from when I last lived there, before wars broke the country financially and hatred and distrust broke the people’s emotions and will to live, they need a place to sit and rebuild this once proud preeminent civilization.
For all refugee communities, women must be the primary concern. Under appreciated in many of their home countries, their role as a second wage earner builds a financially successful family, the respect they get as a mother ensures they raise well-educated, well-adjusted children. Women must have their own community center in order to gather separate from men, with their children safe in a daycare, they must be given a chance to talk together and share their stories, to socialize in English about their new lives and their dreams for the future. Furthermore, the Women Refugee Center would help women with computers to get education, FAFSA, or connect back to their families back home; it would help them develop their skills and even a business in sewing with available sewing machines, and of course it will have private rooms to help serve the private needs of women in a safe environment.
If the Refugee Community Center only offered a place to talk, to take their case for support in an environment that respected their differences, amongst people from their situations, trained in caring and collaboration, it would be a success. But the Refugee Community Center means so much more. At the first refugee conference that I attended in January 2011, the keynote speaker and University of Utah economist Pamela Perlich developed the data for the idea that I have always felt — diversity and immigration are more important to our economic future on the wealth end of the spectrum than on the poor end. What I mean by this, and what is backed up by Professor Perlich’s data, is that the minority-majority culture is more likely to join the creative class, those imaginative enough to develop their own economies beyond the information economy. The next creative class, the first with the minority-majority demographic, can be found by looking into an elementary classroom in Salt Lake City right now. The Refugee Community Center will guide these students through adolescence, giving them a place to belong; and more importantly, will teach their parents the English they will need to not be language outcasts from their own children.
As every mother of a teen knows, distance and silence are the weapons their child uses to begin to separate from their family and set out (even before their time) on their own. This silence is lessened when there is a place to learn English alongside your child, showing them that you care, that in this one location the seeds of fun and the seeds of learning can both be sewn. That lesson, the lesson that creativity, commitment, play, and work can come together and make an American dream, is the what the Refugee Community Center offers to mothers, daughters, Iraqis, Congolese, and Burmese refugees alike.
I am committed to working hard AND smart to making something greater than ourselves. Developing a center for community that leads a child or a woman, an innocent ravaged by war, brutality, and poverty back to the path of hope and ultimately happiness is the highest ideal of service and humanity. And that is why I support the Salt Lake City Refugee Community Center on behalf of the Women of the World Non-Profit Organization and the Iraqi Community in Utah.
Founder and Executive Director of Women of the World